a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Jewish Geography Project: Chayei Sara

Posted on: November 1, 2013

Genesis 23.1-25.18

This translation was taken from the JPS Tanakh

Chapter 23
…2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba-now Hebron-in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. 3 Then Abraham rose from beside his dead, and spoke to the Hittites, saying, 4 “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” 5 And the Hittites replied to Abraham, saying to him, 6 “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.” 7 Thereupon Abraham bowed low to the people of the land, the Hittites, 8 and he said to them, “If it is your wish that I remove my dead for burial, you must agree to intercede for me with Ephron son of Zohar. 9 Let him sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.”..

…17 So Ephron’s land in Machpelah, near Mamre-the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the confines of that field-passed 18 to Abraham as his possession, in the presence of the Hittites, of all who entered the gate of his town. 19 And then Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre-now Hebron-in the land of Canaan…

Chapter 24
1 Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 And Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Put your hand under my thigh 3 and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, 4 but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

…10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and set out, taking with him all the bounty of his master; and he made his way to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor11 He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city, at evening time, the time when women come out to draw water. 12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: 13 Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water;14 let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’-let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.”

15 He had scarcely finished speaking, when Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, the son of Milcah the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. 16 The maiden was very beautiful, a virgin whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. 17 The servant ran toward her and said, “Please, let me sip a little water from your jar.” 18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and let him drink. 19 When she had let him drink his fill, she said, “I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.” 20 Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels…

Chapter 25
1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah[In the eighteenth century, some writers believed that Keturah was the ancestor of African peoples, thereby explaining the similarities between some African and Jewish customs.]2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. The descendants of Dedan were the Asshurim, the Letushim, and the Leummim. 4 The descendants of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah. 5 Abraham willed all that he owned to Isaac; 6 but to Abraham’s sons by concubines Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and he sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East.

7 This was the total span of Abraham’s life: one hundred and seventy-five years. 8 And Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham had bought from the Hittites; there Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac settled near Beer-lahai-roi.

12 This is the line of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the first-born of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedmah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names by their villages and by their encampments: twelve chieftains of as many tribes.- 17 These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; then he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his kin.- 18 They dwelt from Havilah, by Shur, which is close to Egypt, all the way to Asshur; they camped alongside all their kinsmen.

While Abraham and his large (large) family seemed to have stayed pretty much in the same place, they’ve added a lot of additions to their fold, including Abraham’s new wife, Keturah.

Raise your hand if you skimmed over this portion of Torah before and are just reading it with eyes-bulged for the first time? (Raises hand)

Who was Keturah and was she really Abraham’s wife?

The second part is fairly obvious to me, the text says “Abraham took another wife who’s name was Keturah…” but some scholars and rabbis believe that Keturah, which means incense, is really Hagar the Egyptian whom Sarah exiled after the birth of Isaac. Other scholars believe that Keturah was a woman from an African country, which would mean that her skin would be darker than Abraham and Sarah’s, though when you come from modern-day Turkey and move to modern-day Gaza you’re bound to be browner than your average Israelite in a Charton Heston movie, hence the purpose of the Project.

Then there is this interesting tidbid from the site Just Genesis “The name “Ketu-rah” refers to the Ketu division of the Jebusites. The Jebusites had two main divisions: the Nago-Jebu and the Ketu-Jebu. Of the Ketu-Jebu there is a good deal of information in Genesis. This division resided in Palestine and Arabia. Abraham payed tribute to the Ketu-Jebu priest Melchizedek, who was the ruler of the Jebusite city of Salem (Jerusalem). Ketu-rah was of this division of Jebu, as evidenced by her name. She resided at Beer-Sheba, which took its name from the great patriarch Sheba who controlled the well there. (Beer means well.) Ketu-rah’s firstborn son was Joktan, the progentior of the Joktanite clans of Arabia. So the clans of Jebu, Sheba and Joktan are related, but what was their western boundary? It appears from historical records that it was in Nigeria at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers which in the time of Abraham’s ancestors were very great rivers.”

Whether Keturah was black or brown really doesn’t matter much to me, what I do find interesting is that Gd continues to fulfill his promise to Abraham that he will have multiple descendants. We read the various encounters between the Israelites and other groups of people. It would also make sense that with these encounters people (household servants, slaves, etc.) would have sex or marry. And since we know that all of Abraham’s house must be circumcised, it’s safe to assume that, in turn, the Jewish people continues to grow not just through the main characters, but through the other, secondary “cast”.

The passage that follows also implies that along with his wives Abraham had children by concubines, ” but to Abraham’s sons by concubines Abraham gave gifts while he was still living“, and while he doesn’t give these children the birthright he gives to Isaac when he sends them Eastward, they remain decedents of Abraham. We also hear from Ishmael, who with his large brood, lives “alongside his kinsmen”

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